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  • It's still All About Travel 8:30 AM on March 26, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Restaurants and Paladors 

    I think our National Geographic group was very fortunate that our “leader” Christopher had so many personal contacts in Cuba.  I truly believe we would not have been able to experience the variety, and the quality of eating-places.

    There are 2 different types of , publicly owned and run by the Government, the Paladars, privately owned by citizens.  Most of them started out as small kitchen enterprise and now have developed into personal business opportunities.

    We ate outside patios, under trees, in very small compact rooms, outside the Cathedral one evening, and once in a 3-story tenement building.  “La Guarida” was setting for the art film “Frescas & Chocolate”  (Strawberries & Chocolate).  As we walked up the circular marble staircase, we could see floors missing, bare studs barely holding up the next section.  The very small dining area walls were covered with exotic artwork; the kitchen was a cramped area small than my bedroom closet.  The owners, chef and waiters were eager to share their very special cuisine with us.  They have carved out a first class restaurant using ingenuity and grit.  It was an experience none of us will forget!

    Cuban food is not real spicy, but is flavored well.  I like fish, chicken and pork; they know every way in the culinary world to prepare the meats.  Fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and shredded cabbage were always the salad.  They know how to bake bread; their flan is out of this world.  Their ice cream is a national favorite.

    I was surprised to have lobster served two nights.

    For your information (when you make your trip to Cuba, we ate at El Café del Oriente, Dona Carmela, La Guarida, El Patio, El Tocororo, Casa Verde, and Café Taberna.

    Because La Guarida was unique, I’m adding extra pictures

     
  • It's still All About Travel 8:00 AM on March 5, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Dos Dia 

    We gather this morning to hear Christopher Baker’s first talk:  “Land of Eccentricity, Eroticism & Enigma”.

    Taking notes as fast as I can scribble:  An ethic mix of white, black, other mixed Mulatto races.  “Campanero”, a term during the revolution but reverting to Senor & Senoras now.  “CDR” – Committee Defense of Revolution.  Eyes and ears everywhere.  After collapse of USSR influence in Cuba, called “Special Period”.  A time of great hunger and devastation for Cubans.  2 million persons left Cuba during early 1960’s.

    Ration books that supposedly give basic foods for 10 days.  However, often no food is found in the state markets.  1967 businesses taken over by government.

    40% of food comes from United States, even after the Embargo. Farmers taken off their farms and relocated to the city – businesspersons moved out to take over the farms.  Chaos.  Fidel decides to cross established dairy cattle with a large plodding animal from Africa.  Result, no milk, no dairy products. just big ugly grey critters with floppy ears and big horns.

    Cubans love their music, baseball, chess, checkers and ice cream.  They appreciate the human body, and have a very open attitude toward sex.  They are friendly, love life.  In talking to the people of the streets I found them very appreciative of Americans.  Not so toward the U. S. Government (maybe the political billboards have something to do with that?), but seem to have no animosity toward American tourists.

    Christopher, our guide, has spent many years in Cuba, his trusty BMW motorcycle taking him places otherwise not easily reached. His fascinating book “Mi Moto Fidel” is available through his website as well as everything you would want to know about Cuba.

    http://www.moon.com/blogs/cuba-costa-rica

    We are on our way, taking the ferry across the bay to Regla, where we visit the Church of the Black Madonna.  Riding the ferry is to experience the friendliness of Cuban children.  More than ready to pose, especially if one has taken the time to talk with them first.  A small child, all dressed in white, we were told was in training to be a “Santeria”.  A saint with the African/Catholic religious mix.  Whenever we saw a female of any age wearing white from head to toe, we knew she was a Santeria, or in training.

    The Parque Central was directly in front of our hotel.  Baseball fans debate the game on a daily basis; old American cars are lined up – owners more than happy to show them off.  I asked one how he obtained parts to keep his 56 Chevy running.  He said he has a friend in Canada.  (Canada has no embargo).

    Dinner tonight at Dona Carmela, a paladar –

    r (privately owned restaurant).  Lobster and a very interesting cut of lamb, salad, beans and rice, ice cream and coffee.  What a life!

     
  • It's still All About Travel 6:01 AM on March 2, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Uno Dia 

    Arrival in Havana via Delta Charter flight.  We wait in line to be processed at Immigration and Customs.  We present our Passports, the special People to People license No. CT-17903 from the Treasury department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) allowing us the right to travel to Cuba, then fight our way through the mountain of green plastic wrapped food from Cuban relatives in the United States to friends and family.

    The bombardment of shouts from people trying to make themselves heard over the cacophony of airport arrival and departure information, the humidity, and the entreaties from the taxi drivers all add to the slightly out of focus realization we are finally in Cuba.

    An air-conditioned bus takes us to lunch at El Aribe.  We are out on the patio being served a surprisingly good lunch of chicken, salad, black beans and rice.  Oh yes, then ice cream (a Cuban specialty) and very good local coffee.

    It is hard to adjust our expectations to our realizations this first day.  We drive past many political billboards of Fidel and Che extorting the virtues of Socialism.  The Revolution is still alive after 50 years it seems. A multitude of U.S.made cars from the 50’s blast past us.  Pedi-Cabs dart in and out without ever being smashed by the many tour buses.  A continual whirl and color and sound keep us on the alert.

    Our National Geographic Tour Guide, Christopher Baker and Tour Facilitator John David Kling take us to the “Plaza de la Catedral” that evening where we are served Mahi, rice salad, coffee and Flan.  (So much for the granola bars we all packed!)  One myth blasted and probably more to go by the looks of things.

    A beautiful evening, an eventful day – what a way to start the tour of a lifetime!

     
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